Elon Musk peddles free speech — right before he ends the world

Richard Drew / Associated Press
The logo for Twitter appears above a trading post on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on Nov. 29, 2021. Elon Musk has a 9.2 percent stake in Twitter and wants to buy the company and take it private.

If you’re feeling a little like Alice in Wonderland about now, you have every right. Things really are getting curiouser and curiouser.

Remember when liberals were at the forefront of the fight for free speech? Remember when the American Civil Liberties Union said — correctly, in my opinion — that even Nazis have rights in America, that they should be allowed to march through Skokie, Ill., a town heavily populated by survivors of Adolf Hitler’s Holocaust? Remember when it was liberals who said the proper response to speech that offends you is not censorship but more speech?

A lot of liberals on college campuses never were big fans of free speech, so they either disinvited or shouted down speakers who held views they found unacceptable — which is another way of saying “conservative views.” But these were pampered children who weren’t called “snowflakes” for nothing. And it’s not exactly breaking news that a lot of students at elite colleges can be way too confident in their own judgment when it comes to, well, just about everything.

But what should we make of the liberal and progressive grownups who are in a tizzy over the possibility that Elon Musk may take over Twitter?

Here’s how the New York Times described the great divide: “A person’s politics typically dictated how they felt [about Musk buying Twitter]: Conservatives cheered it as victory for free speech. Liberals fretted that misinformation would spread rampantly if Mr. Musk followed through with his plan to dismantle how the social network monitors content.”

Musk is a remarkably bright guy. Surely, he knows that not everything that would appear on Twitter under his management would be polite, or even fair and accurate. But the way he presumably sees it, letting people vent on social media is the cost of doing business if you want a free and open marketplace of ideas. His free-speech philosophy appears to be simple: “It is important,” he says, “that people have both the reality and perception that they are able to speak freely in the bounds of the law.”

Musk says he wants Twitter to realize its “potential to be the platform for free speech around the globe.” 

But are liberals really concerned about a Twitter cesspool that spreads all sorts of misinformation and other vile stuff — or are they worried that Musk would put an end to left-wing censorship of conservative views they don’t like? What amounts to “content moderation” to those on the left is a nice way of saying “censorship” to those on the right.

Max Boot, the Never-Trump columnist at the Washington Post, says, “I am frightened by the impact on society and politics if Elon Musk acquires Twitter. He seems to believe that on social media anything goes. For democracy to survive, we need more content moderation, not less.”

Right after Twitter censored the New York Post story about Hunter Biden’s laptop, Max Boot wrote: “I’m all for free speech, but the First Amendment does not impose on companies a mandate to spread Russian — or Republican — disinformation. We need more pushback, not less.”

Where was Max Boot and others on the left who are so concerned about “disinformation” when Twitter allowed disinformation to spread on its platform about Donald Trump’s supposed collusion with the Kremlin? When you’re “careful” about news that might hurt a liberal such as Joe Biden during his run for the White House and careless about publishing information that hurts Donald Trump while he’s in office, then you’re inviting criticism from those who believe Twitter is just one more liberal media operation — with a big following and a lot of influence.

But Max Boot isn’t alone. Liberals are in full meltdown mode over the possibility that Elon Musk might take over Twitter and make it more free-speech friendly. And in more than a few cases, “full meltdown” is an understatement.

There’s progressive journalist and City University of New York journalism professor Jeff Jarvis, who compared Musk’s desire to buy Twitter to the Nazi takeover of Germany. In an overwrought tweet, he said, “Today on Twitter feels like the last evening in a Berlin nightclub at the twilight of Weimar Germany.”

Or how about Pam Keith, who in 2016 ran in a Democratic primary for a U.S. Senate seat from Florida (and lost). Here’s what she tweeted about Musk: “Dear Elon: F**K OFF! Your ego is WAY bigger than your judgment, and your money doesn’t make you a decent leader of a damned thing.”

Robert Reich, Bill Clinton’s Secretary of Labor, also is troubled by the possibility that a rich guy might take over a media company. “Call me a radical Lefty,” he tweeted, “but I don’t want any oligarch to control the internet.” 

Okay, Reich, you’re a radical lefty — one who apparently had no problem with an “oligarch” named Jeff Bezos taking control of the Washington Post.

Michael Volpe, founder and former CEO of Opera Holland Park in London, tweeted (and apparently later deleted): “Elon Musk buying Twitter is the end of the world basically. He’ll amplify every extremist right wing nazi he can find.”

So there you have it: Elon Musk, the left’s newest boogeyman, is a power-hungry mogul who will “end the world, basically” — that is, when he’s not ushering in the Fourth Reich. But for conservatives who think they’re getting a raw deal from Twitter, who think the left’s real agenda is to control “inconvenient” speech at Twitter (and beyond), Elon Musk is not the problem — he’s the solution.

Bernard Goldberg is an Emmy and an Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University award-winning writer and journalist. He was a correspondent with HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” for 22 years and previously worked as a reporter for CBS News and as an analyst for Fox News. He is the author of five books and publishes exclusive weekly columns, audio commentaries and Q&As on his Substack page. Follow him on Twitter @BernardGoldberg.

Tags Elon Musk first amendment free speech liberals Max Boot Robert Reich Social Network Twitter

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